2021 Trinidad State News

Trinidad State summer archaeology class to survey Fisher’s Peak for artifacts

Trinidad Campus / May 18, 2021 / Written by Greg Boyce


Trinidad State photo Trinidad residents have a unique opportunity this summer to investigate Native American artifacts just miles from the classroom at Trinidad State. Only about one percent of the new Fisher’s Peak State Park is open to the public now, but plans continue on trails, roads, and campgrounds. Covering more than 19,000 acres, this is Colorado’s second largest state park and a rare opportunity for outdoor enthusiasts.

But before plans can be drawn, surveys must be done. What sights might visitors want to see? What’s the most efficient way to protect those locations, while still allowing visitors to enjoy them? For four weeks starting on June 1, Trinidad State archaeologist and Scholar in Residence Calvin Smith will lead students to suspected locations where Native Americans lived long ago. The Trinidad area also has a rich fossil history and Smith wouldn’t be surprised to find evidence of paleontological life as well.

“The first week will be mostly classroom introduction. It will cover natural history as well. The second, third and fourth weeks we’ll do a survey, a very predetermined, logical survey that will encompass as much as we can cover,” said Smith. No one wants to build a road or trail across an ancient village.

Trinidad State photo Smith has been excavating since the 60s. His rich legacy includes excavating and developing the Waco Texas mammoth site, now a National Monument. He has retired twice, but continues to hear the whispers of the people who came before us. He constantly communes with the past. “The locations will be determined by the director of the State Park. What she needs first is really related to the trailbuilding out there. There’s a need to know what they might destroy with future trails,” said Smith. This project is a partnership between Trinidad State, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and CSU-Fort Collins.

“We’ll be meeting eight hours a day (8 a.m. – 5 p.m.) for one month, which is six credit hours. We will also video oral histories of the area. We’re really looking for opportunities to interpret and looking for opportunities to excavate. There’s one site that appears to have some depth to it. It’s in a valley. It appears to have a midden, which indicates a long-term occupation. You could call it a trash pile.” From refuse, archaeologists can determine much about a people. How they cooked, made clothes, and diet can be determined from a trash pile.

As time progresses nature reclaims the land, covering it with drifting dirt. The deeper the discovery, the older it is.

For Smith, everything old is new. His excitement is contagious as he unravels puzzles from the past. He follows in the footsteps of archaeologists who worked at Trinidad State in the 40s, 50s and 60s.

“I’ve been around a lot of programs, but these guys were moving.” Some of what they found is on display at the Louden-Henritze Museum on the bottom level of the Library Building at Trinidad State.

“Much of what they collected dates back as far as the Folsom period, 11,500 years ago. They also worked on Bent’s Fort near La Junta before it was reconstructed.” Prehistoric fossils were also found, including an ocean creature called a mosasaur excavated from downtown Trinidad. Another display depicts the Trinchera Shelter, east of Trinidad, a cliff overhang where people lived thousands of years ago.

A mammoth tusk is also on display at the museum. It is between 13,000 and 40,000 years old. Smith would love to see a resurgence of Trinidad State’s archaeology and paleontology traditions. Depending on what is discovered at Fisher’s Peak, and the number of students who sign up, a second four-week class is possible in July.

“By next summer I would like to have a cadre of people who could work at the Pyeatt Shelter.” It is located in canyonlands about an hour east of Trinidad. It was found in 1963 by archaeologist Bob Campbell but only a test pit was dug.

This class is open to current college students and any adult in the community who wants to learn about archaeology.

Sign up by calling 800 621-TSJC. Smith can be reached at 719-252-6714 or calvin.smith@trinidadstate.edu.

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